all scores

As Mia Fishel makes rookie history, pressure mounts on USWNT

Mia Fishel and UANL Tigres won the club's fifth Liga MX Femenil trophy in 2022. (Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images)

No American striker has ever had quite a first professional year like Mia Fishel just had.

The 21-year-old UCLA product made initial waves when she decided not to join the Orlando Pride, the NWSL team that drafted her fifth overall and at the time was led by Fishel’s former college coach, Amanda Cromwell.

Her destination also raised some eyebrows. Fishel signed with UANL Tigres of Liga MX Femenil, joining a small but growing group of foreign-born players to make the leap to Mexico. Tigres were already four-time champions of the league founded in 2016.

When Fishel moved to Monterrey, she appeared to step away from certain pressures while adopting brand-new ones. Liga MX Femenil is a fast, technical and highly entertaining league in which young strikers tend to thrive.

Tigres had made a few high-profile moves prior to Fishel’s signing, sending Katty Martínez to Club America and losing Maria Sánchez to the NWSL’s Houston Dash. After missing the final of the 2022 Clausura season for just the second time in club history, Tigres also brought in a new head coach, former Canada international Carmelina Moscato. Despite the changes, Tigres entered the 2022 Apertura with high expectations, and Fishel was going to have to deliver.

The striker did that and more, becoming the first foreign-born player to win the league’s Golden Boot with 17 goals. For comparison, no NWSL rookie has ever won the Golden Boot in their first year, though Lynn Williams did earn the honor in her second season in 2016. And only two NWSL players — Williams and Ashley Hatch — have ever won the Golden Boot and a title in the same year.

So, when Fishel and Tigres hoisted the trophy on Monday night after a 3-0 aggregate win over Club America, there was reason to celebrate the history. Fishel had made the leap to a new country with a different culture and style of play, and she helped deliver a title, with tens of thousands of fans in the stands and almost three million watching at home.

All of that makes Fishel’s lack of involvement with the U.S. women’s national senior team somewhat confounding as evidence mounts that she, at the very least, deserves a look at the international level. The U.S., while missing several talented forwards due to injury, has held a roster spot for teenager Alyssa Thompson in the last two international windows, but not Fishel.

The Concacaf W Championship this summer required stricter roster rules (though Fishel did not feature on the provisional list for that tournament, either). But when it comes to friendlies, the USWNT makes its own camp rules. In August, head coach Vlatko Andonovski said that Fishel’s resume didn’t yet warrant a roster spot.

“We do follow her form and her performances, but I also have to say that there are a lot of players in the NWSL that are performing as good and even better than Mia,” he said then.

As Fishel has continued to produce in the Mexican league, Andonovski’s messaging has also slowly evolved.

“Mia is on our depth chart and is … I wouldn’t be wouldn’t be able to say where she’s at,” he told reporters following the release of the roster for the October friendlies. “We’re monitoring her form and her performances. I had a very good conversation with her, and she understands where she’s at.”

In November, the conversations about Fishel from inside the U.S. camp were even more positive, even though she again did not feature on the roster.

“I had a conversation with Mia, and she is someone we’ve followed, certainly someone we keep an eye on. We’re happy for her success down there. She did a really good job,” Andonovski said.

“At the same time, she understands the competition that is on the national team and the players she is competing against. She’s patiently waiting for her opportunity. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see her in a future camp.”

Andonovski’s evolving stance is an indication of Fishel’s hard work paying off, but questions remain about what it takes to get a look at a U.S. team that has obvious gaps to fill, even if only in the short term. Only two players who have been consistently in USWNT camps in recent months play outside the NWSL — Catarina Macario and Lindsey Horan of Olympique Lyon — though the coaching staff says that is not necessarily a factor.

Liga MX Femenil is still a young league, but it takes steps forward in competition and global recruiting with every passing year. And the USWNT has a talented prospect making history right in front of them.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.